I get regular emailed updates from one of the newspapers here in Australia (The Sydney Morning Herald
in this case) - A few months ago, there was an interesting article about a IT company in South Africa who found it was much faster to transfer data by carrier pigeon then electronically. For reference, it is available here http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/carrier-pigeon-faster-than-south-african-isp-20090910-fi9h.html
To quote the article:
Carrier pigeon faster than South African ISP
September 10, 2009 - 10:53AM
A South African information technology company proved it was faster for them to transmit data with a carrier pigeon than to send it using Telkom, the country's leading internet service provider.
Internet speed and connectivity in Africa's largest economy are poor because of a bandwidth shortage. It is also expensive.
Local news agency SAPA reported the 11-month-old pigeon, Winston, took one hour and eight minutes to fly the 80 km from Unlimited IT's offices near Pietermaritzburg to the coastal city of Durban with a data card was strapped to his leg.
Including downloading, the transfer took two hours, six minutes and 57 seconds -- the time it took for only four percent of the data to be transferred using a Telkom line.
Okay, it was a bit of a stunt. I am sure if I posted a 32Gb SD Card to the Sydney (standard mail service- often next day delivery, but sometimes the day after that), it would arrive faster than I could transfer that content from my home office. What does that prove in terms of available bandwidth? Not much really - SD cards can hold an incredible amount of information these days. I have worked with customers in the past who shipped hard-drives around when they needed to transfer large amounts of data - even today - on most networks, it would be faster to courier a 1Tb HDD anywhere in the world than to transfer that much data over the wire.
The article did get me thinking though. I travel quite a bit around Asia and have experienced first hand the speed of networks in many countries. I've seen networks slower than a dial up modems (in Vietnam IBM Office) - in fact I reckon that my mobile phone as a modem over an EDGE connection (3G in Vietnam is very patchy) would have been faster than the IBM office network connection. This is not a unique situation - in many countries I visit, the network speed is faster in my hotel than it is at the local IBM office.
How does this effect the way we behave? Lets look at a specific example. Last year, I was doing a lot of work for the Globe Telecom SDP project that we eventually won with NSN in the Philippines. I was using Cattail (an IBM Research project for sharing files - similar functionality to the Lotus Connections Files capabilty that we now have in MyDeveloperworks) to upload files so that the local IBMPH IBM team could get to them rather than clog up their mail boxes. Smart - or so I thought. With Cattail, you are able to see who is downloading your files - often quite interesting as it was in this case. I noticed that only one person in the Philippines was downloading the files, despite notifying about 12 people that they each needed to look at the content. After a while I asked this one person why no one else was downloading the files from Cattail - he told me that because the network was so slow, most people were unable to even load the Cattail page to begin the download, so he went through the pain for everyone, then emailed the files around the local team! So much for not clogging up their mail files.
I am constantly frustrated by the US centric assumption that the whole world has the same bandwidth available to them as they do. Even in Australia, I am paying AU$68 per month for 12Gb of traffic - typically around 2 Mbps actual (10Mbps claimed capacity) downstream and 250 kbps actual upstream. By US standards, that must seem slow, but by the standards of developing nations in ASEAN, that's pretty darn good. There is still a huge digital divide between the haves (the US) and the have-nots (developing nations) - while some countries will have fibre to the home deployed (or being deployed) over the next few years - Singapore will be done very quickly I anticipate - I wont have that sort of speed available to me until 2012 the Australian federal government claims (I expect it will be more like 2020 though as I do not live in the inner suburbs of Melbourne)
So, what point was I trying to make? I am not sure. I am frustrated at my bandwidth sometimes (usually not) but in countries that I visit, the whole nation must feel frustrated. I often see web pages sizes in excess of 500kb - a ridiculously large size and unusable in most of Asia. Application designers need to be mindful of the bandwidth availability if they hope to be successful in Asia. If you have thoughts, please comment...
PS The other thing this article reminded me of was RFC 1149 -A Standard for the Transmission of IP Datagrams on Avian Carriers Although I know that carrier pigeon transmission of IP packets (datagrams) would go anywhere near the throughput achieved by strapping a SD card to the pigeon's leg.